Studies in Women and Religion

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

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Studies in Women and Religion

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Canadian Methodist Women, 1766-1925

Marys, Marthas, Mothers in Israel

Canadian Methodist women, like women of all religious traditions, have expressed their faith in accordance with their denominational heritage. Canadian Methodist Women, 1766-1925: Marys, Marthas, Mothers in Israel analyzes the spiritual life and the varied activities of women whose faith helped shape the life of the Methodist Church and of Canadian society from the latter half of the eighteenth century until church union in 1925.

Based on extensive readings of periodicals, biographies, autobiographies, and the records of many women’s groups across Canada, as well as early histories of Methodism, Marilyn Färdig Whiteley tells the story of ordinary women who provided hospitality for itinerant preachers, taught Sunday school, played the melodeon, selected and supported women missionaries, and taught sewing to immigrant girls, thus expressing their faith according to their opportunities. In performing these tasks they sometimes expanded women’s roles well beyond their initial boundaries.

Focusing on religious practices, Canadian Methodist Women, 1766-1925 provides a broad perspective on the Methodist movement that helped shape nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Canadian society. The use and interpretation of many new or little-used sources will interest those wishing to learn more about the history of women in religion and in Canadian society.

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Catholic Sexual Theology and Adolescent Girls

Embodied Flourishing

This book explores the intersection in contemporary Western culture of Catholic sexual theology and adolescent female developmental and sexual experiences. The voices of adolescent females, so long silent in sexual theologies, are given privilege here in the articulation of a normative theology.

Applying a feminist natural law framework, the book engages both theoretical scholarship and practical evidence from psychological and other social sciences to inform sexual theology in the Catholic tradition. Attending to gendered, developmental, and social contexts, Doris Kieser explores adolescent females’ experiences of puberty, menarche, various sexual activities, communities of support, sexual desire, and the pleasure and danger these realities reap. She critically explores historical and traditional sexual theologies and prevailing social patriarchal and androcentric sexual attitudes through a feminist lens.

The author’s attention to the voices of girls and women, and her aim to see their sexual flourishing in particular and diverse social contexts, yields a theology mindful of the rich complexities of female sexual desire, pleasure, and well-being. The result is an integrated sexual theology that grapples with the Catholic theological tradition, feminist theory and theology, and the embodied experiences of females. For anyone who is invested in the lives and well-being of adolescent females, this work uncovers both barriers and boons to their sexual flourishing.

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Clothed in Integrity

Weaving Just Cultural Relations and the Garment Industry

Barbara Paleczny, herself a daughter of garment workers, tugs at the threads of homeworking in the garment industry to reveal a low-wage strategy that rends the fabric of social integrity and exposes global trends. The resurgence of sweatshops affects the working poor in both first- and third-world countries.

Paleczny assesses the responsibility of transnational retailers for unacceptable wages and working conditions and describes historic shifts in the global context of garment production. After exploring systemic causes of poverty, relevant policy setting, and ethical foundations, Paleczny introduces both short- and long-range possibilities for transformation, emphasizing the collaborative nature of work.

Clothed in Integrity draws on feminist studies, alternative economics, and the ethical foundations proposed by Bernard Lonergan to fashion a constructive work in which Paleczny connects issues of societal meanings and values, moral imperatives, and economic feasibility. With candour, she shares personal stories of engagement in coalition work. Those who dwell on this text will find information, challenges, and inspiration to nurture their reflection, research, dialogue, and action.

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Linking Sexuality and Gender

Naming Violence against Women in The United Church of Canada

Why did it take so long for the United Church of Canada to respond to violence against women?

Tracy J. Trothen looks at the United Church as a uniquely Canadian institution, and explores how it has approached gender and sexuality issues. She argues that how the Church deals with these issues influences its ability to name violence against women.

In examining the Church’s early approaches to gender and sexuality, Tracy J. Trothen discovered that the United Church had tended to see certain structures or roles as sacred and others as demonic. For example, while sex outside marriage was bad or improper, sexual expression within marriage was largely deemed as proper or good, no matter what manifestation it took. This assumption allowed much violence within families and marriages to go unchallenged.

Trothen uncovers significant shifts in this approach through the examination of such issues as redemptive homes, marriage, pornography, abortion, the ordination of women, and family. Then, analyzing three recent case studies, she demonstrates the value of women’s voices in challenging dominant world views. Finally, she suggests how the Church’s approach to human sexuality and gender has facilitated or obstructed the move to address violence against women.

The findings in Linking Sexuality and Gender can be applied to faiths outside the United Church and will be important to anyone interested in church and society, sexuality, gender, or the causal dynamics behind one Canadian institution’s response to violence against women.

Tracy J. Trothen is an assistant professor of systematic theology and ethics, and director of field education at Queen’s Theological College, Queen’s University, Canada. She was ordained in the United Church of Canada. Why did it take so long for the United Church of Canada to respond to violence against women?

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Obedience, Suspicion and the Gospel of Mark

A Mennonite-Feminist Exploration of Biblical Authority

How do our social, political and religious commitments influence our interpretation of biblical texts? Are obedience and suspicion necessarily opposite ways to respond to the authority of the Bible? Can one criticize and be transformed at the same time?

Lydia Neufeld Harder explores these questions from the vantage point of a scholar, a feminist and a member of a faith community. A hermeneutics of obedience, rising out of the Mennonite theological tradition, and a hermeneutics of suspicion, advocated by many feminist theologians, seem to represent opposite approaches to the Bible’s authority. The resulting polarization could easily have led to static definitions of authority and the subtle domination of those who differ from the majority. However, by focusing on the common theological concept of discipleship, Harder has constructed a critical dialogue, beginning a process of creative change in her own view of authority.

This new view opens the way for an interpretation of the Gospel of Mark. A new appreciation of both the power and the vulnerability of the biblical text leads to a view of authority that embraces both suspicion and obedience in a dynamic interpretative process.

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Profiles of Anabaptist Women

Sixteenth-Century Reforming Pioneers

During the upheavals of the Reformation, one of the most significant of the radical Protestant movements emerged — that of the Anabaptist movement. Profiles of Anabaptist Women provides lively, well-researched profiles of the courageous women who chose to risk prosecution and martyrdom to pursue this unsanctioned religion — a religion that, unlike the established religions of the day, initially offered them opportunity and encouragement to proselytize.

Derived from sixteenth-century government records and court testimonies, hymns, songs and poems, these profiles provide a panorama of life and faith experiences of women from Switzerland, Germany, Holland and Austria.

These personal stories of courage, faith, commitment and resourcefulness interweave women’s lives into the greater milieu, relating them to the dominant male context and the socio-political background of the Reformation. Taken together, these sketches will give readers an appreciation for the central role played by Anabaptist women in the emergence and persistence of this radical branch of Protestantism.

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Rage and Resistance

A Theological Reflection on the Montreal Massacre

On December 6, 1989, a man armed with a semi-automatic rifle entered an engineering school in Montreal and murdered fourteen women before killing himself. Responses to what has come to be known as “The Montreal Massacre” varied, from the initial shock and mourning and efforts to “make sense” of the tragedy to an outpouring of writing, art, conferences, and political lobbying. Rage and Resistance: A Theological Reflection on the Montreal Massacre examines, from a theological perspective, how the massacre was “taken up” by the media, experts, politicians, and a variety of individuals and groups.

A practical exercise in Canadian contextual theology, Rage and Resistance analyzes responses to a tragic historical event by engaging with the work of theologian Gregory Baum and sociologist Dorothy Smith. Baum articulates the theological imperative to address the context in which our lives are embedded, calling for critical social analysis in order to understand, and possibly convert, social evil; Smith takes the standpoint of women as a determinate position from which society may be known.

If one of the tasks of theology is to articulate and clarify the struggles in which we are engaged—to name our reality, both the forces that oppress and the possibilities for resistance and healing—this book takes on that task by focusing on an event indelibly etched into the minds of many Canadians. It analyzes some of the artistic, memorializing, and activist responses as manifestations of a spirituality of resistance and urges ever greater resistance to violence against women.

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Voices and Echoes

Canadian Women’s Spirituality

“Every time we raise our voices, we hear echoes.” Jo-Anne Elder, from the Foreword

Through short stories, journal entries and poetry, the women in Voices and Echoes explore the changing landscape of their spiritual lives. Experienced writers such as Lorna Crozier, Di Brandt and Ann Copeland, as well as strong new voices, appear to speak to each other as they draw from a wealth of personal resources to find a way to face life’s questions and discover meaning in their lives.

There is something familiar about these stories and poems — they echo those we’ve heard before and those we’ve half forgotten. Whether they search for a voice in a world where men monopolize or journey into painful memories to free the self from the past, they do not despair, they do not end. Individual entries become the whole story — an unending story of rebirth and reaffirmation.

The book begins with an illuminating foreword that introduces readers to the cultural and philosophical background of many of the stories, and concludes with the reflections of scholars, writers and artists that are intended to provoke further discussion.

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Women in God’s Army

Gender and Equality in the Early Salvation Army

The early Salvation Army professed its commitment to sexual equality in ministry and leadership. In fact, its founding constitution proclaimed women had the right to preach and hold any office in the organization. But did they?

Women in God’s Army is the first study of its kind devoted to the critical analysis of this central claim. It traces the extent to which this egalitarian ideal was realized in the private and public lives of first- and second-generation female Salvationists in Britain and argues that the Salvation Army was found wanting in its overall commitment to women’s equality with men. Bold pronouncements were not matched by actual practice in the home or in public ministry.

Andrew Mark Eason traces the nature of these discrepancies, as well as the Victorian and evangelical factors that lay behind them. He demonstrates how Salvationists often assigned roles and responsibilities on the basis of gender rather than equality, and the ways in which these discriminatory practices were supported by a male-defined theology and authority. He views this story from a number of angles, including historical, gender and feminist theology, ensuring it will be of interest to a wide spectrum of readers. Salvationists themselves will appreciate the light it sheds on recent debates. Ultimately, however, anyone who wants to learn more about the human struggle for equality will find this book enlightening.

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The Work of Their Hands

Mennonite Women’s Societies in Canada

Impelled by a call to share their gifts through service, Russian Mennonite women immigrating to Canada organized their own church societies (Vereine) as avenues of mission and spiritual strengthening. For women who were restricted from leadership positions within the church, these societies became the primary avenue of church involvement. Through them they contributed vast amounts of energy, time and financial resources to the mission activity of the church. The societies thus became a context in which women could speak, pray and creatively give expression to their own understanding of the biblical message.

Using primary sources such as reports, letters, minutes, etc., as well as society histories, interviews and survey data, Redekop charts the development of these societies, from the establishment of the earliest ones in the 1870s to their flowering in the fifties and sixties and their decline in the eighties and nineties.

The Work of Their Hands elucidates the context in which Mennonite women lived their identity as Christian women, one considered appropriate by themselves and the institutional church. It also shows how changes to the societies, including declining membership and a shift in their primary focus from sewing and baking to one of spiritual fellowship, reflect the changing roles of women within the church, the home and the wider society.

The Work of Their Hands is an important book in the history of Mennonite women’s spirituality and will be a valuable resource for religious studies, women’s studies and Canadian history.

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